Barack Obama declared victory and went home. Too bad it was in Copenhagen and not Kabul:
Late on Friday night, President Barack Obama announced that an agreement had been reached, establishing a minimalist accord that would not set a firm schedule with hard-and-fast targets for reducing emissions. But after Obama held a press conference to declare semi-victory—"this is going to be a first step"—and jetted back to Washington, European officials said nothing was in the bag. [Mother Jones]
That evening, Obama sat down with the leaders of four major emerging economies: Brazil, South Africa, India, and China. A Brazilian diplomat who attended the meeting told Kate Sheppard and David Corn of Mother Jones that the major sticking point was international verification of emissions. The U.S. and China had been at odds over verification throughout the summit.
A bit of background: The U.S. won't act on climate change unless China does. China agreed to reduce emissions, but balked at international monitoring. Earlier in the summit, China's foreign minister implied that he was willing to scuttle the talks over verification. Understandably, the U.S. isn't prepared to commit to anything based on China's unverifiable promises. So, the summit was paralyzed for days while the world's two biggest emitters fought over verification.
According to the Brazilian diplomat, Obama floated a new phrase during the eleventh-hour negotiating session: "examination and assessment" of emissions. It was language China could live with.
Unfortunately, as Sheppard and Corn explain, the draft that came out of the meeting was extremely weak in other ways. The non-binding agreement contains no specific emissions targets and no hard and fast promises of climate aid to developing countries.
The draft sets the goal of somehow raising $100 billion a year for climate aid by 2020. It doesn't say who's going to contribute what, or when. Developing countries know that such vague promises are all but meaningless.
Worse, the draft struck all references to a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees and substituted "less than 2 degrees." This is a life and death distinction for many small island states and low-lying countries. Negotiators wrangled for days over the maximum temperature increase. With a stroke of a pen, Obama's side deal erased hard-won concessions for developing countries.
Obama announced that a deal had been struck and left for D.C.. But it wasn't his deal to strike. The COP in cop15 stands for Council of Parties. By any reasonable standard, a deal at Copenhagen means a deal adopted by the 192-member COP.
COP rules say that any deal has to be adopted by unanimous vote. So, by preemptively declaring victory, Obama basically handed his 12-page document to the world and said "Here, sign this."
As Sheppard and Corn explain, the last-minute meeting was an end run around Europe and the developing world:
The Obama agreement was a sly maneuver. The United States sidestepped the official proceedings and found a way to separate major developing nations from poorer ones—while skating past European desires for a more comprehensive and binding agreement. Though European negotiators first declared they were not on board, as the final evening of the summit entered the wee hours, Europe conceded. At a 2:00 a.m. press conference, dour-looking European leaders announced their unhappy support. "This accord is better than no accord, but clearly below our ambition," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "We have to be honest."
So, it's hardly surprising that other countries balked when they were asked to vote for the Obama Accord, which they had no say in drafting. Can you imagine a better way to piss off a roomful of negotiators who have been sweating blood for two weeks than by rewriting the whole deal behind closed doors?
In the end, the COP merely "noted" the agreement instead of adopting it.
It's great that the U.S. and China were able to move forward on verification. That's a major diplomatic achievement for Obama. The Obama Accord could even pave the way for a stronger agreement next year.
Yet, by trying to hype a solid side deal as the Copenhagen Accord, Obama reinforced the stereotypes that have stymied climate change negotiations to date. Throughout cop15, developing countries have complained bitterly that the developed world is ignoring them.
By overselling the agreement Obama confirmed suspicions that the accord is just a figleaf to cover a failed summit.
There is a silver lining here. If conservatives hear that Obama pissed off smaller, weaker countries in Copenhagen, they'll want a treaty for sure.